The Olympic Games grinding to a halt in peacetime is unprecedented. After an initial reluctance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and host Japan acknowledged the overwhelming global fear of stepping outdoors in times of the coronavirus pandemic to push back the Summer Games by a year. The rising fatalities across the world overrode the sighs of disappointment from athletes who were readying to head out to the Games for their long-awaited date with soaring challenge and glory. But the celebration of the abilities of the fittest would never have felt right amid the wave of anxiety currently sweeping the planet. With the mere act of travelling posing a grave risk, and Japan anticipating a second wave of the virus outbreak with thousands returning home, a postponement was foretold.
The Olympics have always meant more to the host country than merely the possibility of an impressive standing in the medals tally. For Japan, too, this was going to be the successful rallying back of a nation from a dark past of nuclear disaster, and at the start of the decade, the tsunami. The Games this July were meant to seal the legacy of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving prime minister, who finishes his term in 2021. Tokyo 2020 was to be about Japan’s proud self-assertion as the global superpower from Asia, affording the country much more leeway to stamp its style on the Olympics than Tokyo 1964 did so soon after the war. It is possible that what was planned for 2020 might well play out in 2021. But the year’s lag will bear the scars of a torrid time that has brought the world to a standstill like nothing before.
Sport eulogises grit and sacrifice, the overcoming of barriers and the pushing of limits better than any book or movie can. Tokyo, now, is tasked with proving in a year’s time that humanity can win the biggest game it can play — of sheer survival.
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